By: Maria McAlister-Young
The Winter Olympics in PyeongChang drew nearly three thousand top-tier athletes from ninety-two countries to compete on the most exalted stage of international sports. And the Summer Olympics is even bigger, with an even greater number of sporting events and athletes. In 2020, rock climber Ross Fulkerson, a junior at Design Tech High School, might be one of them. Justin Cubbage, one of Fulkerson’s coaches, believes that “there are a lot of talented climbers in the U.S. but given Ross’s relatively diverse background and success, I definitely wouldn’t count him out.”
Rock climbing was just officially approved for the Olympics, meaning the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be the first Olympics to bring climbers to the world’s highest stage. However, unlike other national and world competitions, the Olympic format will include all three climbing disciplines: bouldering, lead climbing and speed climbing. Fulkerson explains: “They introduced this new format, where they have to compete in all three disciplines in the same day, which all these pro athletes have never done before. So you see in World Cups these people who are ridiculously good at one discipline, but there are very few at this point that are balanced across all three, so that leaves an opening for kids like me, who train in all three, to kind of step up and take that part of the competition.”
Over the weekend of February 9th, Fulkerson placed first at the National Youth Bouldering Championship in Salt Lake City. Two years ago, he placed 7th in the World Youth Sports Climbing Competition. He’s not far off from a run in Tokyo in 2020.
But like all athletes, Fulkerson had to start somewhere. When he was seven, Fulkerson had a rock-climbing themed birthday party at the local gym, Planet Granite. He enjoyed it so much, he had the same theme again for his eighth birthday. While climbing around that day, one of the coaches on the Planet Granite team at the time saw how much he enjoyed it, and invited him to join the team, or at least, come in for a practice or two. This was all the incentive Fulkerson needed. Eight years later, it’s surprising if you can get him to stay on the ground for more than five minutes. As Fulkerson expressed, “Once I joined the team, I embraced the climbing culture, and the climbing community embraced me. It’s turned into a family, like a way of life for me. It creates a feeling of camaraderie and sportsmanship that I haven’t experienced in any other sport.”
After dedicating eight years of his life to this sport, it is no surprise that Fulkerson has traveled around the world to compete in competitions, winning awards along the way. Seven years ago, in his very first competition, Fulkerson placed an impressive 14th in the nation. Since then, he’s participated in countless national and even some world competitions, and was recently invited to join the USA youth team,
“There are many facets to Ross’s climbing that enable him to compete and perform as he does. In short, he is dedicated, hard working, modest, and, most of all, passionate. To compete at this level in any sport takes hours upon hours of practice, and there are few who do it with as much enjoyment as Ross,” coach Justin Cubbage praises. With only two years left before the next Summer Olympics, it won’t be long until we could be watching Ross Fulkerson compete in Tokyo against countless other talented rock climbers. We can’t wait!